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Election officials are under assault. Here’s how to protect and support them.

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Election officials are under assault. Here’s how to protect and support them.

Feb 06, 2024 | 6:30 am ET
By Guest Commentary
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Commentary: Election officials are under assault. Here’s how to protect and support them.
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Montgomery County elections officials review paperwork during a provisional ballot canvass in 2022. Photo from the Montgomery County Board of Elections.

By Joanne Antoine

The writer is executive director of Common Cause Maryland, a government watchdog group. 

We should all be able to go to work each morning without the fear that we won’t make it home to our loved ones. But our election workers don’t have that security right now, and it is our collective responsibility to change that.

A poll by the Brennan Center found that 45% of local election officials said they fear for the safety of their colleagues. Nearly one in three election officials have been harassed, abused, or threatened because of their job, and more than one in five are concerned about being physically assaulted on the job in future elections.

This is absolutely unacceptable.

The daily stress has led election administrators to leave their jobs in droves. Roughly 11% of current officials say they are very or somewhat likely to resign before November 2024. The know-how that leaves with each worker is invaluable.

Issue One, a nonpartisan watchdog group, captured this issue best in their 2023 report on the election administration “brain drain”: “In a field as technical as election administration — where officials work with specialized voting machines, oversee ballot tabulation, and combat cybersecurity threats, among other responsibilities — it takes time for people to learn complex procedures, gain familiarity with equipment, and hone problem-solving skills for when challenges arise.” Officials with fewer years of experience are more likely to make unintentional mistakes. These mistakes, however innocent they may be, are then interpreted by conspiracy theorists and extremists as “switching votes,” or “rigging the election” and blown into outsized controversy.

One in five election officials serving in the 2024 election cycle is new to the job. As we approach the 2024 election, we need to ensure our election officials here in Maryland know we have their backs.

Luckily, this issue is a priority for Gov. Wes Moore (D). As a part of his legislative agenda for 2024, he’s championing the Protecting Election Officials Act (Senate Bill 480/House Bill 585). This bipartisan bill would create a new misdemeanor charge in the Election Law Article for those who threaten election officials or their families.

This legislation gives Maryland a chance to bolster our election officials, and will hopefully function as a deterrent to prevent future extremists from targeting state and local election officials, including election judges. Common Cause Maryland wholeheartedly supports this bill, and we encourage you, reader, to voice your support for this legislation too.

Beyond supporting this legislation, you can also show your support for your local election officials more directly. Apply to work at the polls as an election judge — a surefire way to dispel any wariness that you may have about the integrity of our elections. There’s no better way to get an answer to your questions than to be one of the boots-on-the-ground, serving your community.

You can also volunteer for our Election Protection program, the nation’s largest nonpartisan voter protection coalition. Alongside other nonprofits, we recruit, train, and deploy thousands of Election Protection volunteers across the nation. These trained, nonpartisan volunteers serve as voters’ first line of defense against confusing voting rules, outdated infrastructure, disinformation, and other obstacles to the ballot box. They also alert us of any potential threats to election officials working at the polls. There’s a role for everyone — whether it’s helping voters from the comfort of your home, assisting voters safely in person, or tracking online disinformation. Learn more about how to volunteer here.

Together, we can stand behind our election workers and ensure that our elections continue to be safe, secure, and accessible.

Editor’s note: The Protecting Election Officials Act is up for a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday afternoon.